YONGZHONG TOWNSHIP, CHINA — AS millions of surplus Chinese farmers quit the land, some are moving into new urban centers built upon the same fields they have tilled for generations.
In the city of Wenzhou and other coastal areas where rural industry and commerce is developing rapidly, farmers are investing their savings to construct towns locally, rather than migrate to distant metropolises. China now has 12,000 rural towns, triple the 1978 figure.
Beijing supports the creation of new "rural" towns as a way to curb a mass outflux of villagers and prevent the kind of population explosion in big cities that has burdened Bombay, Jakarta, and other Asian cities.
Farmers in Wenzhou have provided $280 million (85 percent of the required investment) to expand the number of rural townships from 18 in 1978 to 120 today. Forty percent of Wenzhou's agricultural population is now concentrated in the towns, which account for 60 percent of Wenzhou's industrial production and commerce.
In Yongzhong township, former peasants sporting Hong Kong fashions stroll through markets and past high-rise apartment buildings that stand on what was farmland in 1987 when construction began.
Twenty factories producing electronics and machinery have sprung up, increasing the industrial output of the town to 10 times what it was a decade ago.
Yongzhong's enterprises have absorbed thousands of surplus farm workers both from Wenzhou and poorer parts of Zhejiang Province. Only 20 percent of Yongzhong's population remains in farming, so each farmer can till larger plots with greater efficiency than before.